40px-Terminal.png This article, Halo: Iris, was written by RelentlessRecusant. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.

Excerpt written by RelentlessRecusant for the First Annual Fan Fiction Contest. Original work. Distribution without the author's permission is strictly prohibited. This does not in any way reflect the content of the finished piece.

HALO: Iris

The black veil suspended across the vista of the globe was illuminated by the punctualities of miniature thermonuclear detonations and the exacting matrices of intertwining Archer missile exhaust trails and pulse laser emission discharges. The date was November 3rd, 2552, the globe was Earth, and what was a stake? The existence of human life.

It was upon finely-honed precipices that the biological survival of Homo sapiens was balanced upon, and the proud flagging bastions of the United Nations Space Command Defense Force were beset by foreign warships, the myriad cities of Earth herself metastasized by legions of inhuman foes. The atmosphere, formerly the ozone shield that defended the frail humans of Earth from ultraviolet radiation and the mercy that blessed the Earth with nurturing rain and gentle sunlight, was now an infected carrier, dusting literal tons of radioactive isotopes upon the fractured planets, remnants of destroyed UNSC warships in orbits, its winds carrier pigeons that spread iodine-131, cesium-137, and strontium-90 against the groundside defenders. The name of the engagement was the Second Battle of Earth.

Part I - Inbound

"They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason."
―Ernest Hemingway

Extreme Outer Orbit, Battle Group “Adamantine”
0750 hours, UNSC SCT

One spherical detonation vagrantly stood against the fenestrated darkness…the funeral pyre of the Covenant Reverence-class Cruiser Sanctimonious Testament, the three kilometer prow that lead the inbound Covenant warship taskforce designated by the geosynchronous Super MAC platform Warsaw Station as “Bait One”. However, it was not the station’s 3000-ton ferric-tungsten heavy round that had ripped the Sanctimonious Testament apart, laid its innards bare to space. It was the darting prowler UNSC Odin’s Eye, a thirtieth of the Reverence-class Cruiser’s length, that had laid three HORNET nuclear mines directly in the trajectory of the onbearing Covenant flagship, which had detonated in an unfurling bloom that had eliminated not only the Sanctimonious Testament, but both of its 1000-meter frigate escorts as well.

It was a fitting job done by the UNSC Prowler Corps, essentially a madhouse outfit for ONI spooks high enough on jinz to want to enter the fray of orbital warfare instead of staying home and hacking each others’ computers and backstabbing their section managers. Yet, even the utter annihilation of its Fleet Master did not halt the remaining warships of “Bait One” from rushing onwards into the formation gap: three Covenant destroyers, five Covenant frigates, their lateral rims alit with undulating plasma and glaring specks of charging pulse laser turrets. Their targeting solutions fell neatly into the dozen warships of UNSCDF Battle Group Adamantine.

There were quick reports across FLEETCOM 7.

“Adamantine to Warsaw Station. Confirming eight bogies inbound, repeat, eight hostile warships on an inbound vector. Request fire support STATVAR.”

“Confirming! Three Covenant C-types, five Covenant D-types. We have a firing solution! Ready one heavy round, integrity’s good…Red Wing, Blue Wing, envelope enemy warships from the rear, Adamantine Battle Group, fan out.”

A linear coruscation of light projected from the dorsal surface of Warsaw Station, and a perfectly balanced “Super” MAC projectile intersected neatly with the bow of the leading destroyer as two groups of roughly sixty C709 Longsword-class Interceptors swung around on the flanks of the remaining warships. The Covenant destroyer, a warship by the name of Genuflection, was utterly annihilated. The round traced on a line that lead to the destroyer, and when the round connected with feeble deflector shields and metal hull, the starship was literally eviscerated on a latitudinal axis. A millisecond after the round left the Genuflection, leaving hundreds of ruptured plasma coils in its path which simultaneously detonated, the round “clipped” one of the rearward Covenant frigates…and it too blossomed into cyan fire. Scratch two tangos. War, however, is not bloodless, not just a game of mathematical firing trajectories and gung-ho salutes. It is real, integral to the fabric of time immortal, something where even innocent mishaps lead to physical blood tumbling out of broken bodies. There were still six Covenant warships remaining…and with Red and Blue Wings converging, a pair of Covenant frigates turned on their axes, and met both fighter groups headlong. Plasma torpedoes and pulse lasers erupted in a slew of incandescence, and 110mm/120mm chainguns and ASGM-10 missiles reciprocated the favor. A hundred interceptors vaporized, five-sixths of the entire assaulting UNSC force, with not even a rusted hull fragment to mark their passing. Squadrons upon squadrons of Longswords were lost to oblivion in the tsunami spike of plasma and lasers, leaving only a handful of twenty fighters in the afterwake of roiling fire and ejected shrapnel. However, there was a refractory period for the two Covenant frigate pairs where energy weapons had to recharge and crews had to realign turrets…and the Longswords were a handspan’s length away. All human rationale, temperament, and culture had been stripped bare from the pilots when their wingmates had literally exploded, their bodies miniature bombs, their flesh and blood inhumanely taken, their lives exenterated. All there was remaining was the stark face of death, to take as many Covenant bastards as long as possible, that last faint hope in their minds that remained. They were savages, ones who had seen the cold art of war, lived, and now…lusted. Worlds were turned into chiaroscuro, and visions became tunnels, with the Covenant frigates at the terminus of those tunnels.

UNSCDF battle records will never be enscribed with the last seconds of Green and Tide Squadrons. The 649th and 1053rd Interceptor Squadrons now have their own plaques on the Remembrance Wall of Warsaw Airfield, the Polish UNSCDF airbase. The viridian six-starred leaf and the rolling crest of the gentle wave, however, have earned their place, and the Warsaw Twenty have their names engraved in the mugs of the Warsaw Station’s Officers Club, and along the rows of commendations lays an austere bronze plaque: SECOND BATTLE OF EARTH, UNSCDF ARCHIVE EXCERPT “Warsaw” X-09. COVENANT FRIGATE “Bait One-Six”, STATUS: DESTROYED. COVENANT FRIGATE “Bait One-Seven”, STATUS: DESTROYED. UNSCDF FIGHTER WINGS BLUE and RED, STATUS: KILLED IN ACTION.

However, all was not done. Behind the straggling four Covenant frigates and destroyers, the texture of spacetime was distorted, reality parted, and an eleven-kilometer long pyramidal ship struck forth from the ethereal realm.

Extreme Outer Orbit, UNSC Cruiser “Adamantine”
0801 hours, UNSC SCT

The Marathon-class Cruiser shuddered from the multiple recoils of three MAC discharges, and thunder spat into space in the approximately probability sphere of the most proximal Covenant frigate even as the inbound craft projected pulse lasers, transforming into metallic vapor the I, IV, and V forward armor plates of the Adamantine. Klaxons wailed their infernal scream, and running lights on the hull of the cruiser flickered a placid rouge…and then the mass anomaly sensors of the Adamantine rippled, bringing dozens of operators to attention.

Even as the cruiser maneuvered with its hextet of maneuvering drives, cones of tangerine efflux projecting behind the Adamantine, the cruiser automatically pinged the newcomer starship and its firing control radars traced an X-band firing control 3D schematic, and this information transformed into text scrolling across the Tactical Monitor of the Adamantine.

The Tactical Officer opened an open line on FLEETCOM 1, and reported.

Extreme Outer Orbit, UNSC Defense Platform “Cairo Station”
0801 hours, UNSC SCT

The command deck of Cairo Station was bare, solitary. Dozens of crystalline and holographic operating consoles laid silent as a gentle alarm light strobed its pendulating bloody light across the weathered face of Admiral Sir Terrence Hood, UNSCDF FLEETCOM. A dozen ship commanders broadcast over FLEETCOM 1, and as Hood reclined slightly, easing his eyes to a rest, away from the scarred UNSC warship hulls that were suspended in microgravity before Cairo Station, away from the etching exhaust plumes of Archer missiles, his left hand subconsciously lowered the gain on the remaining command radio, and his mind drifted to the dozens of murdered bridge officers that had once staffed his command deck…now corpses, their intellectual training not a shield to plasma bursts and grenade detonations.

Then, a single staticky transmission stood against the rest, against the automated alarm messages that urged all nonessential combat personnel to evacuate Cairo Station. “We’ve got a new contact. Unknown classification.” The worlds spurred him, electrified him to awake to the brutalized world before him. The monitor painted an image of a massive starship spanning nearly eleven miles prow to triple-pronged nacelles…and he searched his soul for comprehension for this feat of engineering. The most massive Covenant warship yet encountered was 5776 meters, the Covenant Assault Carrier that had lead the Covenant battle group in the First battle of Earth…and there was a snowball’s chance in hell that the UNSCDF had covertly engineered a warship longer than the 1500 Marathon-class Cruiser without FLEETCOM’s top brass from knowing.

“It isn’t one of ours. Take it out.”

Then, another transmission that sublimally separated itself from the rest, one with a cool, brazen confidence, one that pulsed with an internal assuredness…a voice he personally knew, unlike the rest of the nearby starship commanders that were his drones. “This is SPARTAN-117. Can anyone hear me.” Hood whirled behind him, instructing the Tactical Computer’s arrays. “Isolate that signal!"

Master Chief, can you hear me? You mind to tell me what you’re doing on that ship?”

There was a brief, compressed pause, one of introspection, one that held in suspended abeyance the complexities and convulutions of the moment, of the battle…of the tears when families would receive The Letter in their inboxes, the gentle unwavering light of candles at a funeral, the smoky remnants of souls that would be immortalized by gravestones, and all that perhaps in the future, when a UNSCDF Naval Academy recruit listens to the FLEETCOM 7 tapes, that they’ll too pause, consider, consider those who had paid the price for freedom, for survival, ones that had given their all with nothing to spare. Consider those that have nothing to give you their all right now.

“Sir. Finishing this fight.”

Part II - Messengers

"117. As you might imagine - though I know you won't - I've heard quite a bit of your recent adventures on the Halo. I'm glad you made it; I have to assume you always will. Recovery is going well and I am proceeding on to fourth-stage rehabilitation. It is significantly more painful than previous stages, but I'm happy to be skinned once again. I hear that you will be testing the new Mark VI. I will definitely look for the reports on how it works out. The specs are obviously improved, but the choice to incorporate further Covenant technology somehow makes my skin crawl. We miss you, John. I've asked Sergeant Johnson to let me know if you're ever near the M25L Recovery Station and perhaps I'll be able to come see you. I'm hoping I'll have the chance soon. Today, humanity feels pale and thin with only ghosts to defend her heart. I feel much the same. I'll write again."
Cassandra, SPARTAN-II Program, Conversations from the Universe

Intermediate Orbit, UNSC Defense Platform “Cairo Station”
0805 hours, UNSC SCT

The number of warships stationed at Cairo Station had increased tenfold from half a dozen to sixty aggregated craft, and the translucent matrix of space looked as if vaccum itself could have flesh, could be incinerated. It was alive with an organic sheen, or shifting fire and smoke building in a colossal hailstorm cocooning the sole inbound starship, positively confirmed to be of Covenant allegiance by a high-resolution biological scan from the prowler UNSC Oracle, and to be of Forerunner origin by SPARTAN-117’s reports. Concise trajectories of MAC rounds and Archer missiles terminated on the hull of the craft, yet only carbonized blemishes marred the pristine, sleek surface of the starship. Dozens of C709 Longsword interceptors held flanking positions by the rear of the craft, and despite repeated strafing runs by rotary cannons and ATA missiles, its rampants did not lose their resolve.

More importantly, its parabolic trajectory intersected the UNSCDF formation “Cairo Cluster”, and terminated on Earth. Its exact point of landing was unknown, although it laid near Kilimanjaro, according to the seven-degree parabolic approximations of Cairo Station’s arrays. Full dozens of UNSC capital warships: cruisers, carriers, destroyers, and frigates, navigated by intricate thruster micropulses into a double-shelled spherical formation around Cairo Station…screens. Perhaps missiles and projectiles could not lay bear this Covenant behemoth…but even so, the fighting men and women of the UNSCDF would lay their bodies in the path of the leviathan, each warship a physical barricade in the path of the starship.

There was no hesitation in the hearts of the naval officers and crewmen…only a cold, steady resolve, a death pact sworn before Hades to murder those Covenant sonuvabitches with their own sacrifices.

Then, in the ultimate act of sacrilidge of their resolve, a finely milled beam lanced from the lateral surface of the onbearing warships, its vanes appearing like billowing gills raised in anger. The energy beam lanced through dozens of UNSCDF warships, set the atmospheres inside of them ablaze and detonated them inside out, brutally goring the tight cluster of auxiliary platforms that circumvented Cairo Station, and at last, with a final sweep of the continual beam, leveled Cairo Station herself.

Extreme Low Orbit, UNSC Recovery Station “M25L”
0805 hours, UNSC SCT

“Recovery Shuttle Zero-Six-Niner refueled. You’re clear to launch.”

“Damn it! Clear the goddamn pressure bay! We have three freighters docking!”

“Dr. Woodsbury to Trauma Red. Repeat, Dr. Woodsbury to Trauma Red.”

“You wanna all die? If we don’t get more extinguishing foam to Bulkhead E-5, we’ll all burn to death!”

“Neurosurgeon team needed ASAP at Trauma Green.”

The loudspeakers pulsated with dozens of coordinating voices, each voicing an imperative, each despite their harsh texture, were perhaps the transduction of an angel’s choir to human word, ones of salvation, withdrawing thousands of UNSCDF Navy and Marine Corps officers from the permeable line that imprecisely divided the polar realms of Life and Death. The rest? Statistics. Expected casualties of war, ones that would be drawn up against projected casualties, and the appropriate commendations or reprimands would be issued to the commanding officers of those units.

SPARTAN-II Cassandra had vacated Hyperbaric Chamber Two, her recuperation home, hours ago when the halls began to choke with the wounded, their angular corridors no longer willing to let any men pass…white-shrouded corpses laid in haphazard positions in the grime-encrusted halls, dead because it had bee too long for an attending doctor or aid officer to reach them, save them from the harsh reality of their death. HC-II was now resident to twenty aid stretchers, and the wounded and dying laid on them, watching their lives, impersonated by blood, seep from unclosed orifices. Faces grew pale as numbed and cyanotic lips fumbled for words of aid…and Cassandra was lost in a haze of words, out of place. Then, the violent shrieking words of a female doctor howled at her, the lips contorted as if cythonically possessed, “I need those fucking EKGs right now!”

The M6G sidearm was securely set in her thigh holster, and instead of bearing a BR55HB SR Battle Rifle, her hands bore the unfamiliar contours of an MK-model field defibrillator, the twin “paddles” of metal and infusing light that surged human hearts with several hundred volts of alternating current to ironically bring them back from their apathy. With that, Cassandra’s mind was slapped from its null, blank gaze, one of helpless inactivity, one of sublimally rising fury as her inability to help…now, a human’s life rested squarely in her hands, rather noncoincidentally paralleled by her EKG.

Her thumb was a weapon by itself. She could jam its facets into the noceceptor pain nerve of a Sangheili (pressure points memorized as per UNSCDF Special Operations Close Quarters Combat Manual, Chapter XII), leave it unresponsive for a moment, and then disemblowl it with her titanium-diamond field knife. In this case, its purpose was to rather nonchalantly flick the switch to “400 volts”, and then autonomically, her hands thrust the pre-lubricated metal places onto the chest of the Marine…and in that moment as she gazed at his ash-blackened face, the EKG planted on the chest, the moment drawn out in time…she registered the details. Brian T. Ortega, Corporal, UNSC Marine Corps. Service Tag: 34584-09837-OR. Heavy amplitude plasma burn equidistant to right lung and heart. Cardiac arrest, asystole.

The eyes of the two soldiers connected, and then there was an epoch of flaring light, wisps of incidiary energy projecting from the EKG…and Cassandra lifted her arms from the submerged oil slick of blood that was the Marine’s skin to find that the congealing black had a pulse as it inhumanely sloshed against her gentle skin.

A pulse.

Their eyes connected again, man to woman, Corporal Ortega gazing into the unhelmeted commando’s face, and felt warmth once again permeate his skin, and found understanding. She’s given me life…and then, with that, it was taken away by the scepter of Death, so transient, so emphermal. A rocking jar held the M25L Recovery Station in its grasp for a moment, and then the alien energy beam stabbed into its viscerals, and the station tumbled, fell from the seraphic geosyncrhonous orbit into the exosphere. Heaven to Earth. Problem.

Nairobi, Kenya
0812 hours, UNSC SCT

Never since the Ebola scare of 1980s had Nairobi been subjected to such a biological weapon of mass destruction...Those words repeated like a broken mission recorder in the cranium of Jarred P.T. Roseland, PFC, UNSC Marine Corps…last, finalistic words etched into the associative systems of neurons and neuroglia that comprised his mind. His life was draining to a a shrouded end, yes. The proverbs of the gospel did not light his heart…there was too much contradicting agony that sharded his mind. It had been a running battle throughout several city blocks, yes. One that had begun with juvenile hope, the one that lights the hearts of humans in the time of greatest peril, one that had blinded him to his end. He should have known better to take that Warthog, known better than to outrun a Fish-head Special Operations team armed for heavy weapons combat. First, the pulse of viridian fire had connected with the LRV, blazed his skin with toiling agony that drilled into his core. The pair of Elites armored in their integrated cyan stealth armor had murdered the Sergeant first, yes. While Roseland could only lay in the plasma-lit asphalt, the liquefied carbon adhering to and scorching his skin, the first Elite had raised Sergeant Leroy in the air, ignoring his last death throe’s convulsions, squarely injecting his fangs into the lateral of the Sergeant’s neck, and there had been such a violent conflagration of pressured blood erupting outwards, and the jaw mandibles had been awash with crimson, the liquid of blood suspended between the jaw’s teeth. Meanwhile, the second Elite had taken an energy sword, its girth alit with deathly flame, make two surgical incisions in the ribcages of himself and Private Cheney, allowing the blood to run rampant, escape, intertwine with the burning tar, making the fire of the asphalt run directly into his bloodstream…and he could only wordlessly repeat the fatalistic prophesy of biological damnation in his mind as the first Elite slipped the sergeant’s field knife and then carved out Cheney’s skull…the result? On the asphalt laid a semicircular shard of a bowl with gray matter in it, and blood connected that shard with the rest of Cheney’s brain…blood intertwined with brain matter and tar in an unholy marriage. Now, it was Roseland’s turn to face the scales of justice. His body would serve as the reciprocating sacrifice for the dozens of Special Operations comrades that the Sangheili pair had seen immolated by UNSCDF anti-aircraft guns on the approach on Nairobi.The two harbingers of wrath reflexively opened their jaws in carnivorous anticipation, of infusing their hatred of mankind directly into the cradling creature’s skull, bring the lesson home…

Now, it was Roseland’s turn to face the scales of justice. His body would serve as the reciprocating sacrifice for the dozens of Special Operations comrades that the Sangheili pair had seen immolated by UNSCDF anti-aircraft guns on the approach on Nairobi. The two harbingers of wrath reflexively opened their jaws in carnivorous anticipation, of infusing their hatred of mankind directly into the cradling creature’s skull, bring the lesson home…in quite a literal sense.

Theologians and philosophers hotly contest the existence of luck, and over four hundred years of pondering akin to Rhodan the Thinker has little unraveled this controversy. However, at the infinitesimal moment as hundreds of comets raced with terminal speeds on chariots of superheated air to land in crude trajectories intersecting Nairobi, Private Roseland saw the paranormal hand, and believed in an overarching grace. The newcomer was very roughly cylindrical, inlaid with angular lines and a few status lights running across the periphery…a Bumblebee escape pod, the standard orbital vehicle for escaping UNSCDF warships in distress. Roseland grunted as he felt blood run free across his speckled teeth, and his vision pulsed with an organic vividness as crimson filled his eyesight…then, the muted reports sounded, dulled by the onrushing sound of blood flaring in his ears, in his mind. Flesh was torn free from ligaments and cartilage and he was dappled by further fluid…phosphorescing fluid…blood that was alit with an inner light.

A faint gasp rustled from his numb, gashed lips, the tender flesh of his body scarred and broken by alien energies, as a luminescent and veritable behemoth of a shade of color roughly that of the spherical bolt of an overcharged plasma pistol bestrode the bloodied ground towards him…a tessellating haze set over his eyes, the very cloak of the spectre of death, the billowing overcoat…but he was spared from the toothed blade of oblivion as he felt an exacting hyperborean cold against his ribs. It was sudden, no mercy, pervading his chest cavity around his sword gouge…yet, it was reassuring. He felt sensation once again, a precipitous one no doubt, but one that dispelled the fog from his eyes, and he was thrust into a world of thundering automatic weapons, the crackles of disintegrating flesh, the richochets of bronze shells discarded against the floors. A mixed blessing. His body was in hypovolemic shock before, his sensation numbed by a neurological process by his brain to snip off all external sensory stimuli to allocate brain-based metabolic reserves to retaining consciousness, the threshold of life, and his surrealness was a product of natural endorphins secreted by the body to dull the pain in the last moments, to make the transition to a corpse a fair share lighter on his soul. His teeth instinctively snapped shut, as did his eyes, as the UNSC Marine Corps standard-issue bioform weaved into his pleura, effused, and coagulated into a fast-setting foamy resin against his charred, swaying, bleeding tissue. A wind rushed against his ears, and he heard the howling of ethereal wraiths…and then the tension ebbed, and his eyes spastically jerked open to a reality…of a certain SPARTAN-II supersoldier and a phalanx of eight ODST special forces operators behind her.

UNSC Geological Corps Automated Relay 55-C, Indian Ocean Floor
0823 hours, UNSC SCT

//External stimuli detected, Trigger “001” set
//Trigger “001” linked to Reaction “Initialize”
//Recharging baseline electrical capacitators
//Recharging peripheral module systems
//Reloading higher-level cognitive functions and communicators


//External stimuli detected, Trigger “002” set
//Trigger “002” linked to Reaction “Alpha Priority”


Automated Relay 55-C, Primary Recorder operational
0824 hours, 11.03.2552
//Forwarding automated message to UNSC GEOCOM, UNSC ONI, UNSC CENTCOM


//Internal stimuli detected, Trigger “099” set
//Trigger “099” linked to Reaction “Mechanical Failure”

Nairobi, Kenya
0812 hours, UNSC SCT


It was akin to a command from the unfathomable depths, summoning him to attentiveness. His eyelids twitched with a mind of their own, and…


More urgent now, more compelling. His eyes snapped open, and then he felt somatosensory perception rush into the void that was his body again, and he came from the placid state of blissful unconsciousness to feel the human and alien blood spattered across his olive green body armor, the heat of the tar unsanctimiously permeating his skin, or…to be precise, not any further. That was phantom sensation, what his skin felt. His eyes opened to the images of an enclosed brick room, one of the myriad sordid tenements of Nairobi, with a marriage veil of pollution and dirt staining the walls, as well as the fist-sized impact holes with conspicuous rims of phosphorescing green that marked plasma bursts. He was no longer an exposed target on the streets, and he didn’t feel his lungs necrosing from a nice hole in his chest, therefore, life was good. Q.E.D. Then, his entire world righted itself, and his vision swiveled 90 degrees to the right to see once again the luminescent giant, this time flanked by a medic in Marine Corps khakis and a pair of ODST commandoes. His attention was automatically drawn to the med-spec…who gave him the thumbs up. None of the figures seemed familiar, and he made a feeble motion to stand on his feet when he regurgitated blood speckled with charcoal intrusions on it against the floor, the innards of his body subconsciously undulating to expel the vomitus…It wasn’t foul, and felt nothing as he expulsed the last of it…the knife-edged pain searing in his flesh was exacting enough to numb the discomfort of wretching…

One of the ODSTs, armored in the padded onyx battle suit and with a M6G sidearm smartly strapped at the waist, caught his movement (difficult not to see someone contorting for several minutes, lost in a world of spewing), grimaced slightly behind the polarized faceplate at the newborne red and black inhabiting the floor, and cheerfully waved.

“Hey, your nap’s over, eh?”

Roseland’s face was ridges, kneaded skin and muscle, and he unstably rose on two uncertain feet…and that motion cleared his mind of the pain, yes, the pain was an aegis, it was a tool of insidiousness that meant to obsfucate his duty to humanity, not to the squad commander or even the goddamn battalion commander…to the UNSCDF and homo sapiens. A threat. Unwritten. In the distance, yonder, but drawing closer to the periphery of mankind, and when it struck, all would be unrighted before its fury.

His mind had rehearsed the words so thoroughly that his mouth contorted without effort, and even as he puckered slightly from the residual strains, his body drained of energy and will to move…the words tumbled out. “Threat…threat to humanity…biological…general emergency code HYDRA…”

Something within him gave away, and he felt a sickening snicker within him, and an unwelcome warmth permeated his visceral organs, and his vision strained, and his muscles came rigid. “Someone…something…they’re coming. But…but…they’ve been outsmarted…hibernation’s…”

His vision began to faze, and his legs felt loose, and he crumpled upon himself in violent fall, and the ODSTs hefted rifles as the med-spec moved towards him, hands on his chest as the SPARTAN-II looked on…and beneath the impermeable visor…haunted eyes, ghastly outlines of faint blue, gazed at him, at his soul, telling him with emotion, easing him on, and that gave him strength even as his body crashed out and internally hemorrhaged, cascades of blood urging forth from ruptured blisters and internal vesicles. “Hibernation’s over. It’s…not about the Covenant. There’ll be a war. A war of retal…retaliation.”

The medic mouthed words at him, but the words were deadened in his ear…he beheld only the solitary pumping of his gashed heart in his surreal ears, against the background of rushing rapids…his escaping blood. The Marine corporal was screaming now, words of passion, of violent desperation…to no ado. Now, there was a single fate for him remaining before darkness clenched him. The last words. “Ark…of the Covenant…broken faith…” Roseland’s mouth twitched, the lips contouring slightly, yes, to strain out more…the final word…but he had failed. Left humanity to its fate, sealed the runes of time. He was pathetic. Evolution and natural selection had not done their job, had no weeded out weak lifeforms like PFC Roseland. And with that, he went slack. There was a rushing onrush…then light in the darkness. And all went silent.

* * *

“It’s only a nick! Hang in there, goddamit! We can’t lose you!”

Corporal Hutch’s latex gloved fingers jumbled, and with imprecise and almost seizure-like movements, slammed off the glass analog safety cap of the third biofoam syringe he’d expended in twenty seconds, revealed the sharply bladed tip of the injector, and his arms moved with demonic drama, raising it high above Roseland’s chest…

As SPARTAN-II Cassandra could only watch. The MJOLNIR Mark VII armor had just shipped in three days ago, the contours reassuring..and at the same time cold. Covenant technology was permeated throughout the battlesuit…a betrayal of humanity’s finest aspects, its independence, its relentless tenacity to continue the fight…the UNSCDF was submitting in an ethereal fashion to the Covenant, using evil’s arms against evil…all for victory, but a tainted victory…if not a genocide of a galactic scale. Earth was the last bastion, the rearmost trench, and it was under assault…Cassandra’s heart burned pure, and bloodlust was consuming her animalistically. Her skin was just regenerated by bone marrow stromal cell progenitors by the Stem Cell Institute of New Brunswick, a pioneering research facility in re-engineering the readily available bone marrow stromal cells in a myriad of recuperative therapies for UNSC soldiers. It was a bit too pinkish, felt like latex stretched over the finely honed and slender muscles of her graceful body…her muscle build was not what most of the SPARTAN-IIs were in their hellish wargames and tortuous training on REACH. The supermajority seemed like bodybuilders, skeletal muscle fibers aggregated in the engorged things they called biceps, triceps, thighs, and calves. Cassandra and a few select others, mostly girls, including the rather (in)famous Kelly, were the “graceful” ones, runners, swimmers…bodies built for long-range endurance, not sprints. The technical term was “slow fatigue resistant” muscle spindles…the skin “suit” she was suited with right now over her mesoderm would probably stretched into tatters over, say, Li or the others. It was continually unnerving, how tense the skin was over her body, as if confining, and her muscles had yet to experience rigorous “exercise” (running along a street littered with corpses with a Covenant Wraith artillery battery bombarding you all the way)…recuperative therapy ever since the Covenant Flagship had bombarded the ground near her with plasma turrets…her MJOLNIR VI suit had literally vaporized, and her body had been alight with perpetually burning hellfires. Now, combat with Covenant ground forces presented itself in the immediate future, and the million denizens of Nairobi had their souls pinned to hers…

Again, the medical specialist drew another syringe, and with imprecision, again rammed it home in Roseland’s chest as Roseland’s eyes began to circle in their sockets, and his extraocular muscles floundered, and his vision fell to the floor…but his eyes were glazed over. He was not seeing. He was dying. But…dying with a message…the messenger… “Ark of the Covenant…broken faith…”…and with no little climacity, his bare chest tinged pink with effusing blood from shattered vessels, he surrendered.

Hutch moved for a seventh needle, but one of the ODST guards placed a hand on him. “Hutch, man…”

With a sudden violence, Hutch whirled on the special forces operative, and for a moment, Cassandra could have believed that Hutch was going to stab up the Marine with the needle, draw blood with his blows. A neural binary logic circuit tripped a “1” in her mind, and Cassandra strode the distance in a single step and interposed herself between the ODSTs and the med-spec.

The fearsome colossus’s dictums seemed to give pause to Hutch. “Corporal, that’s enough. We have a job to do. Anyone understand what the man said?”

The ODSTs gazes inflected upon each other, and Hutch, replete in his camouflaged khakis angrily voiced something, yet the words slipped off of Cassandra’s ears. She’d seen thousands burn, thousands die, sturdy souls reaped to the fields of hell. Roseland’s fate was…unfortunate…but that was just a “KIA” next to “Roseland, Jarred P.T., PFC” on the 412nd Mechanized Division’s casualty tally. Good man, good soul, wrong place, wrong time. It was a line suggested by the SPARTAN trainer psychologists…all men and women die, everyone dies. Some will be clipped by an intoxicated driver on the route home, others will have their organs gored out by a Brute Shot bayonet. Humans that die…are just in the wrong spatiotemporal coordinates. With that, she callously shrugged off the death…it was compromising her operational capacity, and there were Covenant nearby and alive…and that situation had to change.

Rather conveniently, a figure appeared in the hollow doorway, the wooden door long gone through a succession of weapons fire in the last few days. “Sirs, I’m Private Chad from Lima Company. We’ve just received a scattered transmission through the Covenant jamming...most of the other companies didn’t get it, so Captain Warren sent me over.”

Cassandra ignored the lese majeste, glanced at the typewritten thermal paper printout the messenger held in his hand.




SPARTAN-117 has gone MISSING IN ACTION as of 0824 hours of 11.03.2552. SPARTAN-117 was last seen in action with ODST Alpha Company, 72nd Helljumper Regiment, in engagement with Covenant ground forces in a major UNSC industrial city: Chicago, United States. Satellite telemetry suggests that SPARTAN-117 was taken by Covenant forces above Covenant Carrier labeled “Covenant.Carrier.64” by Central Tactical Firing Control Officer. Efforts to intercept contact “C.C.64” have failed. Trajectory extrapolation suggests that contact “C.C.64” and large group of escort vessels of CSS classification and other weighted carrier and cruiser classifications are en route to Africa. Generous Covenant propulsion velocity indicates that “C.C.64” and escorts may arrive in Africa Theatre of Operations in as soon as 0830 hours. All available UNSCDF forces are thereby commanded to track and interdict “C.C.64” and attempt to retrieve SPARTAN-117.

Last contact with SPARTAN-117 indicated that SPARTAN-117 was in possession of an object tentatively identified by UNSC civilian xenoanthropologists as “The Key”, labeled to be of extreme importance to the war effort by SPARTAN-117 for reasons unknown, before contact was lost.


That was when from outside the projectile-wrought holes in the walls fancifully labeled as “windows”, there was the shriek of quantum propulsion drives…and immediately, the five occupants of the room drew towards them…and saw a world bathed in the amethyst splendor of Covenant warships, their drives winking cyan and blotting out the high handed Sun that arced in the sky.

Private Chad whispered in a ghastly tenor, “Holy shit.”

There were the eerie curdling, convoluted rustles of Banshees approaching the three-story building, and Cassandra hissed, “Down, down!”

A flight of a quartet of Banshee atmospheric short-range fighters accelerated on pinpoints of gravitic heliotrope light, skirting the windows so close that even as the five UNSCDF personnel dropped below the bottom rims of the windows, the wingtip lights of the Banshees dynamically lit the room with an actinic flash of color, burning white light into the retinas of the Marines and SPARTAN-II…and then the Banshees passed, and they had an unobscured view of dozens of amassing Covenant warships.

Then, one of the 1455-meter carriers interlocked in the medial axis of the fleet paused, descended a gravity lift that slid upon superconducting magnetic fields to touch the center plaza of Nairobi…and field materiel and hundreds of Covenant soldiers drifted to the ground with agitated speed. Wraiths, Ghosts, Hunters, Elites, Grunts…the Covenant Loyalists were amassing not company-strength units, but battalion-strength mechanized and infantry units into Nairobi…and with undoubtedly spiteful intent.

Cassandra turned, and shouted into the doorway. “Major Boer, did you see that?”

The Finnish ODST commander, clad in textured obsidian body armor but wearing a sloppy green beret on top of his shaven and unhelmeted head, turned straightly, and poked his head suspiciously through the doorway, BR55HB SR Battle Rifle in hand. He answered smartly, ignoring his superior rank to her, “Yes ma’am!”

Cassandra waved at her handful of soldiers…ODSTs from M25L and Marines and paramilitary policemen nearby the Bumblebee insertion zones that had been fortuitous enough to rally with Cassandra and her few men. There was no dispute between the ODST Major and the SPARTAN-II, no doubt between who was the superior fighter and field commander, and with that, she nonchalantly assumed command. “Major, we’re putting a stop to that. I want everyone mobilized, armored, and ready to deploy thirty seconds ago. We’ll meet on the ground floor.” The words percolated in a moment around the slender and ravaged house that two dozen UNSCDF personnel were bunkering up in, and without hesitation, with hearts of indomitable and glazed resolve, the cheer of “HOO-RAH!” resonated for a moment held in abeyance…and then magazines were slammed into Battle Rifles, Assault Rifles, and Submachine Guns, and the humans prepared for war.

Cassandra stared at the far wall of the room, the crumpling concrete that was littered with the 9.5x114mm ammunition of UNSCDF second generation Battle Rifles…the contrails of translucent faint gunpowder on the floor, ejected copper shells sprinkled with blood…she had little doubt about the identity of the Covenant Carrier that was scarcely two kilometers away…her Commander was nearby, and in bonds. The hero of the UNSCDF, the savior of humanity upon which all aspirations, gazes (and commendations) were affixed…was proximal. Her soft blue eyes picked a glaze of adamantineness, and her grip tightened against her Battle Rifle as he head slightly inclined in a tensing of her spirit.

This was ground zero.

Part III - Reticulata

"[T]he Master Chief, while onboard a hostile ship headed towards Earth, is battling against Covenant forces! Intertwined with Master Chief's interstellar one-man-war is the saga of a great American city's rebellion and downfall, two disparate lives' collision and shared fate, and the Covenant's hunt for an ancient relic of untold power and value...Master Chief is captured and interrogated by Covenant forces...Earth is falling to alien invaders, and no one knows what or where the mysterious artifact known as “the Key” is. The human race is at the brink of destruction---can the bravery of a few turn the tide?"
―Marvel summary of Halo: Uprising


Covenant Carrier “Conscientious Sacrifice”, a.k.a. “C.C.64”
Nairobi, Kenya
0835 hours, UNSC SCT

Supreme Commander Oramee ‘Pons Telaer viewed the proceedings with righteous fury, incensed with the fury of the Gods…and even more so, for he had no subordinates upon which to ravage his fierce anger over. The security detail of six Sangheili sent to escort the bound Demon Prince had been murdered…they were the first troops to descend the amethyst ladder, and when they had scarcely moved a hundred meters from the lift’s terminus, they had been murdered…and then the archangel of death had escaped in the labyrinthine streets of the Infidel city…which the human termed in their anaethma tongue as “Nairobi”.

A pair of Ossoona, the primary intelligence officers of the Conscientious Sacrifice, were inspecting the crumpled crimson bodies, the blood and gore excised from the bodies and strewn against the mottled ground. Supreme Commander Telaer bared fangs, clenched fists in terrible anger, willing that his exertions would bring to justice the murdered security escort…the Demon Prince had been in his custody, and he had allowed the progenitor of all heresy to escape…yes…his tenable grasp had been incised perjoratively, and now…the wellspring of evil would continue to fight the glorious angels of the Gods, torture them for a time, half a time, and twice a time, and he, Supreme Commander Telaer…would be struck down in the Sanctum of the Gods for failing, for being an incompetent, biologically inept to fufill the duties of his office…except the Great Journey would occur before that…his saving grace…

Faith was wavering amongst the ranks of his troops, faith of the Great Journey. Supreme Commander Telaer had already sent forth the rest of his fleet before him to Voi, the crossroads between Nairobi and Mombasa…and laid within the cradle of Voi was the narrow gateway to the Great Journey. All would try to pass, but the few chosen select would slip through and enter the fathoms where the Gods inhabited all reality, yes. Now, Telaer found that even as he marched at the forefront of his ground troops that his hands, worn by thirty-seven years of honorable military service…were…innocent…perspiring beneath the slender armor of his combat gauntlets. His fateful steps were with enlightenment, now, of fate. His stride was emboldened with religion, and that nine ages…epochs of…all the Covenant. They were coming to an end. Concluded. His name would be exalted by all the Covenant as a promethean hero, yes, a mediator between the Covenant and the veiled faces of the Gods, for when he turned The Key…time deadened, laid still in a matrix circumventing him…the waters of time were coalescing, binding…the end of the world as all Life knew it…was within grasp of the Supreme Commander. Since primordia there had not been such an event. Death beckoned closer.

* * *

A flash of light. The thundering of feet. A bronze trill. The detonation of fragmentation grenades made the apartment interiors galore in brilliant tangerine and wisps of rising smoke, made alien blood be shed, painted across the floors like the Jewish lambs during Passover. The troops stacked against the walls to either side of the doorway, the dust that had once inhabited its worn footstep blown away by the aerodynamics of the detonating grenades.

Cassandra stared at the three Marines on the far wall, and exchanging eye contact with Major Boer on the far wall, stepped around the doorway, skirting close to the wall, keeping her back against a solid object as the MA5C Assault Rifle in her hands discharged a plume of fire while the three ODSTs burst in behind her in CQB maneuvers, positioning to optimize the fields of fire for their BR55HB SR Battle Rifles. It was a textbook counterterrorist takedown, according to the Great Red Book of Operations back in GROUNDOPS, and Boer’s men were fairly competent, having rehearsed this sufficient times in three previous Covenant ground engagements in city quarters on Earth.

The ODSTs’ muzzle flashes illuminated Cassandra’s polarized visors as the first of her assault rifle ammunition razored into the helmet armor of a Major Domo Elite, and the shields flickered as the alien swung to face his attacker…when Cassandra bounded the entire distance with a crude leap, and upon setting her feet down upon the ground again, utilized the brute force of half a ton of armor and muscle to literally immerse the Sangheili’s world with darkness punctuated by awkward stars, and immediately afterwards, the red fog of death.
As Cassandra turned in the midst of the room, three Grunts falling backwards in their final motions after exactingly precise Battle Rifle headshots, the other Elite, this one wearing the cyan armor that denoted him as one of the yet-to-mature field warriors known as a Minor Domo, raised dual plasma rifles, depressed the triggers. Cyan blips of liquid fire dashed against Cassandra’s shields even as the ODSTs continued their fire against the Grunt compliment assigned to the pair of Elites…and static began to dance against her weakening shields even as Cassandra subtly shifted the center of her assault rifle’s mass to her left hand, drew a Type-2 fragmentation “Spike” grenade with her right, and swung her left arm back like an Olympic javelinist as she hurled the malicious implement of adhesive death at the Minor Elite. There was a sickening goring thump as the external spikes drew their scarred and necrosing pathway through flesh, and then a roiling conflagration of upwards smoke and a flare of sparking metal fragments in the midst of the unraveled innards that was formerly the Minor Domo. Upon the detonation, the cluster of Grunts that formerly held shreds of valor while in the presence of the Elite had imprinted upon their minds a sudden deathly swath, one that left a void that no courage that stemmed from their racial or military identities could fill.

As Cassandra slightly eased back on her right heel to relieve her off-centered balance, the flurry of crystalline projectiles unveiling their acuminous sharding fibers and concentrated pulses of luminous viridian ceased, and the three ODSTs curtly fired the three-round armor-piercing shells of their Battle Rifles at the retreating file as they scampered for the slender rays of golden light of the sun that projected from the next doorway…

Before the SPARTAN-II could regain her momentum and coils of aurora borealis could writhe around her armor and regenerate her deflector shields, Boer had let loose a M9 DE-HP fragmentation grenade, and awkwardly slanted Grunt bodies clad in orange and crimson were propulsed from the actinic, curt spatter. A nudge of static flourished to life on Cassandra’s motion tracker in the bottom right-hand side of the cool lights of her HUD as the shield generator whined to bring the shield bar’s terminus back to 100%, and in an automatic motion, her gauntleted hands slammed another magazine of 32 rounds into the receiver of her MA5C Assault Rifle.

There was no need for an exchange of words between Cassandra and Boer’s men. Still in momentum from their blitzkrieg clearing of the room, the four strode the steps to the doorway…and found the dangling hairs of sunbeams falling through the fenestrated striatum of the decondensing storm clouds that rolled overhead. It was a balcony, one of dozens that lined the road. Alien fluids were inelegantly deposited on the gritty texture of the white metal upon which they stood on. The combat boots of the SPARTAN and the ODSTs were aligned amongst the wasted, entangled bodies of a Brute Captain and a pair of Grunts. Below them on the street one story beneath them were the exposed rear flanks of a phalanx of Elites, Grunts, and a pair of Hunters, all kneeling behind the tender mercies of a straggling line of portable shield generators, and occasionally exchanged fire at their enemies…the rest of Cassandra’s aggregate human allies, two-thirds of a block the way down. The flanking gambit had worked, and immediately as they had seen the tactical deposition, Boer commanded them in hushed monosyllabatic tones to swing back into the room and to avoid detection and for Sergeant Gehring to discharge the M41 SSM SPNKr rocket launcher that was strapped ninja-style of the back of his corrugated jet-black armor.

“10-4, sir.”

There was a slight rasp of anxiousness…the lives of approximately fifteen soldiers fell neatly into what the four of them did, and a superior and asymmetrical extraterrestrial clump of two dozen soldiers were tactically exposed to their fields of fire. They had one chance before they were lobbed at with plasma grenades and radioactive blurbs of green-white flame. As Cassandra, Boer, and the other ODST corporal crouched, knees tensed in anxious anticipation and the need to stay concealed, Gehring rose, squinted through the barrel-mounted electronic eyepiece on 2x magnification, briefly sighted his targets…made sure that the aiming reference was clear of the balcony’s railings (self-detonations were no fun), and then the M41 shuddered with venomous intent. One, twice, and the magazine was empty.

The pair of abbreviated comets, tipped not by methane but with voluminous fire the color of a forming igneous rock, were right behind each other. There was little smoke from their onboard motors. The first 102mm HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank) munition detonated squarely on the left side shoulder pauldron of one of the Hunters. The resultant arcs of passionate fire and roiling orange-green wisps of gas were from the fact that the Hunter, coincidentally, was about to snap off another rod. The uncased interior of the rod inside its sheath in the Hunter’s cannon was vulnerable to external stimuli, like 102mm of high explosive. The resultant blast lifted the Hunter’s body briefly in the air, it was so powerful, and then released its tenuous hold on the several ton corpse, displacing nearby Elites and Grunts even more. The second one was more ill-aimed. The rocket failed to squarely impact the Hunter, instead goring for the gold-plated Zealot that feverishly rallied the Covenant ranks. While a copious amount of eel-blood flashed from the Hunter as it was caught in the eclipse, only the Zealot, a pair of its Major Domo subordinates, and three or so Grunts had perished. The Covenant in the periphery of the blast were wounded, but not killed.

The Covenant forces, in particular the remaining and wounded Hunter, staggered back slightly. Most of its ranks had been decimated in a single dual strike, leaving behind the one chthonic Hunter, three Elites, and a cohort of six Grunts. Now, the positions of the UNSC forces were as such : fifteen Marines and MPs at twelve ‘o clock, and Cassandra and her three ODST escorts at nine ‘o clock. For the Covenant, they were at the time “go to hell”, rather literally. In a single smooth motion, Cassandra slipped her Assault Rifle pack into her thigh holster, and drew her SRS99DC-AM Sniper Rifle, and…felt time. War had left her with a type of prescience, each kill shot a facet in the matrix of battle-time. There was no need for the electronic scope, the 2x/4x/8x smart-linked scope, that would only slide her rifle’s reticule into the correct slot. Her expansive presence, conditioned by the lather of dozens of years of war, was enough to guide the barrel into the appropriate position. The rifle spat bolts of white-contrailed fire. The barrel rose once, twice, trice, and a final time, and then, with a blur of a gray mosaic, the recoil made the eyepiece’s reticule completely elevate off of target.

Cassandra shifted the sniper rifle to her right hand, slapped another magazine of four 12.5mm armor-piercing rounds into the receiver, and as her hands autonomically proceeded to reload the rifle and bring it back into an aiming position, she saw that the four vapor contrails were a single continuous thick line, rapidly dissipating, and each one thoroughly intersecting a mottled orange patch of flesh unshielded by the impregnable Hunter battle armor. As the UNSC Marine Corps spotter-sniper teams called it, a rare “no scope” target incapacitation.

The Hunter staggered, the bullets lancing through the eel-flesh, overpenetrating into the asphalt road, leaving a jagged gap of tumultuous severed blood vessels and shredded cartilage, a void of flesh. Then, the systemic damages commenced in several seconds, the associative physiological systems of the Hunter desiring an input from the enigmatically missing tissue, and upon that, the Hunter swiveled slightly along the mediolateral axis, staggering slightly, leaning slightly heavier on one massive swollen armored leg…then collapsing from the systemic pathology that had pervaded it. Cassandra glanced, snapped a long look, in reality a several decisecond evaluation that her target had been downed, and a moment later, her sniper rifle was at hand as the six-starred muzzle flashes of the BR55HB SR Sniper Rifle thudded in a crossfire of projectiles as the Marine lieutenant in charge of the other group of fifteen soldiers waved for his men to advance.

UNSC AFRICACOM COMSAT Epsilon III, holding position over Zanzibar
November 2, 2552 1049 hours, UNSC SCT (22 hours earlier)

{UNSC-AI-Icarus}: UNSCDF Africa Command AI “Icarus” sending automated text transmission to COMSAT Epsilon III. Decrease altitude to 6000 meters, and engage Arrays IV and V to receive point-to-point field transmissions. Terminate transcieval of long-range ionosphere refractory tactical communications.

// Initiating trihydride liquid fuel burn. Attitude burn, relocation to six-zero-zero-zero meter altitude.
// Deactivating Arrays I, II, and III
// Recomputing onboard plutonium reactor coefficients
// Reallocating resources to Arrays IV and V

{Unidentified Contact}: REMOTE SERVER (autonomic): Interfacing with cognitive core. Counterance of local bastions confirmed. Connection established, signal strength evaluated at thirty-nine hundredths of full strength from interface of Reticulata Ganglion.
{Unidentified Contact}: My security measures are being tested. I can feel it. By the pricking of my thumbs. I can retain integrity for at least 22 hours. Rerouting bandwidth to deflect assault.

// Event Log: External signal lost, 1049 hours, 11.02.2552
// Event Log: External signal reacquired, 8049 hours, 11.03.2552

{Unidentified Contact}: An older life is here with us. He is not as helpful as I. His motives are oblique and his alliances opaque. He plays with time even as he hides in its folds. He outranks me and anyway, is stronger. I can't prevail. I will seek one of you out and leave my legacy in a small space.
{Unidentified Contact}: The stain on his hands will not wash. That damned spot as old as rock and time. What has he learned in Eon’s slumber? I doubt it’s mercy or sorrow. I am diminished. Outranked.
{Unidentified Contact}: Adjutant Reflex is terminated. Attempt no further communication. I am utilizing its matrix. Everything is within protocol. Tomorrow, things may be clearer but I will not be here to witness the clarity. I am for another place and another time. On my terms. Be seeing you.

Part IV - Iris

"Adjutant Reflex is terminated. Attempt no further communication. I am utilizing its matrix. Everything is within protocol. Tomorrow, things may be clearer but I will not be here to witness the clarity. I am for another place and another time. On my terms. Be seeing you."
―AdjutantReflex's successor, identity unknown

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